Executive Firings: What's Behind Hollywood's Season of the Witch Hunt (Analysis)

8:00 AM PST 10/03/2013 by Gregg Kilday , Kim Masters , Pamela McClintock, Tatiana Siegel
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Illustration by: Jacob Thomas

THR's studio-by-studio breakdown reveals surprising new details of the movie business' biggest executive upheaval in years -- Sony's hunt for money, will Jeff Robinov finally land at Fox? -- and the politics of the shake-ups.

DISNEY

The Walt Disney Studios was ahead of the pack, experiencing its executive upheaval in 2012 when Iger gave up on the experiment of having television executive Ross run the motion picture company and turned instead to the seasoned Horn, former president of Warner Bros.

Horn has a penchant for stability, and since his arrival in June 2012, there have been no major executive changes. Studio sources emphatically reject persistent rumors that president of motion picture production Sean Bailey might be replaced, but that hasn't stopped insiders from pondering whether some of Horn's meetings might really be prospective job interviews. Bailey's contract, which was to expire in January, has been extended, but the studio declines to disclose its duration.

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Disney's big-picture strategy was set by Iger well before Horn was hired. As Horn arrived, Disney had just opened Marvel's The Avengers, which took in $1.5 billion worldwide, and was poised to release Pixar's Brave, which would gross $539 million. A few months later, Disney acquired Lucasfilm and plunged into the Star Wars business.

Unlike its rivals, Disney eschews outside financing in its quest to make branded entertainment that can be exploited across its vast platforms. That means the studio reaps all the success from its big franchises but also takes the full brunt of misses like June's The Lone Ranger. Its loss of up to $190 million was a major contributor to the demise in September of the studio's 22-year relationship with producer Jerry Bruckheimer.

Disney is sticking with its other major suppliers, expecting two Marvel films per year and, starting in 2015, a movie a year from Lucasfilm. Pixar is supposed to contribute one or two films each year, though it recently pushed The Good Dinosaur into 2015, meaning next year will be the first since 2005 with no Pixar movie on the slate. While some critics have expressed disappointment with once-golden Pixar's recent sequels, Monsters University has raked in $736 million worldwide. Disney also is betting on one film per year from its own animation unit.

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Horn's greatest challenge appears to be ensuring that Disney can execute two or three profitable tentpoles from its own studio. This year, he had a pyrrhic win with Sam Raimi's Oz the Great and Powerful, which brought in $493 million worldwide but was hobbled by reshoots that blew up an already-outsized budget. Projects set for 2014 include Maleficent with Angelina Jolie and Tomorrowland from director Brad Bird. Disney will round out the slate with some smaller films, such as the upcoming Saving Mr. Banks, which it is positioning as an awards contender, and a couple of films that it will distribute from its deal with DreamWorks.

Internal meetings are underway to consider the definition of a Disney-branded live-action film. A studio source says the smaller and less expensive Disney films are referred to internally as "brand deposits" and uplift the company's brand even though they won't necessarily sell lots of T-shirts and lunch boxes. Upcoming films in that category include Muppets Most Wanted, Million Dollar Arm and McFarland -- less than $35 million each with the exception of Muppets, which is a bit more. Horn also pulled the trigger on the musical Into the Woods with a budget just above $50 million. "Alan isn't steering away from these movies and is pushing the development team for more films like this to complement the slate," the insider says.

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